Pilatus Crashes – No Smoking Gun

Our search of NTSB data for accidents involving the Pilatus PC-12 series airplanes turned up only 23 since the first was reported in 2001—and four were in countries outside the U.S. With so little data, there was no basis for forming any opinions about areas of concern.

We did note that five accidents involved loss of control inflight, all in IMC. Having flown the airplane a few times, we have been impressed with its ease of handling, so we’re curious about the circumstances and the pilots in those events.

In one accident, a pilot who had not flown IFR in some seven years got an intensive refresher upon buying his PC-12. Later, while cruising with the autopilot engaged in what was reported to be light icing conditions, the autopilot disengaged during a turn. As the angle of bank increased, the pilot ran an autopilot test. The autopilot did a self-test as the airplane entered a diving spiral. After the airspeed was over redline, the pilot pulled back on the yoke, overstressing the airframe and causing an inflight breakup.

Two pilots lost control while climbing in IMC, one shortly after takeoff and one while deviating around weather. Neither got his airplane collected before descending into the ground.

One pilot was cruising his PC-12 at 800 feet above its 30,000-foot service ceiling when he reported an undefined instrument failure. The NTSB was unable to identify which instruments failed and whether backups were working when it examined the wreckage post-crash.

ATC noted significant airspeed and glideslope excursions before one PC-12 pilot stalled and spun his airplane into the ground three miles short of his destination airport while on the ILS in IMC.

There were two engine failures due to mechanical issues. In one case the pilot landed on a road but damaged the long-wing airplane hitting signs on rollout. The second was a little more exciting. Shortly after entering IMC following takeoff, the two-pilot crew heard a series of bangs from the engine and saw flames. They collaborated to shut the engine down and aim for where they thought the airport was. They found it successfully, but couldn’t get stopped on the wet runway. The airplane hit the boundary fence.

We think the PC-12 has excellent ground handling—that was reflected in only two runway loss of control (RLOC) events, one following a fast touchdown in gusty winds and the other in calm winds on an icy runway.

One pilot shot the ILS with some extra speed tacked on in IMC, landed long with partial flaps and couldn’t get stopped on the wet runway.

Improper weight and balance calculation led to loading a Part 135-operated PC-12 aft of the aft c.g. limit. On liftoff, the pilot discovered a lack of pitch control. He aborted the takeoff, but pitch oscillations led to a hard landing that damaged the airplane. He was able to stop on the remaining runway.

We expect to see at least one animal strike in our monthly UAG accident reviews. The PC-12 was no exception—elk ran onto a runway and collided with one PC-12 during rollout on a night landing.

A series of inexplicable decisions by a PC-12 pilot resulted in the death of all 14 occupants of his airplane. He failed to have icing inhibitor added when he had the airplane fueled. En route, ice built up in the fuel system, preventing one wing tank from feeding and leading to an increasing fuel imbalance between the wings.

Rather than divert and land before the imbalance reached the maximum allowable, the pilot continued toward his destination. While approaching the airport the fuel imbalance became so severe that the pilot lost control of the airplane and crashed—no fault of the PC-12.